Part 2 out of 4
the young man lifted the child in his arms and
smiled with the look of one who loves children.
`Come, Sandro, and see the little new flower,' said
Filippo. `Is she not as fair as the roses which thou
dost so love to paint?'
Then, as the young man looked with interest
at the tiny face, Filippo clapped him on the
`I have it!' he cried. `She shall be called after
thee, Alessandra. Some day she will be proud to
think that she bears thy name.'
For already Filippo knew that this pupil of his
would ere long wake the world to new wonder.
The only clouds that hid the sunshine of Lucrezia's
life was when Filippo was obliged to leave her for a
while and paint his pictures in other towns. She
always grew sad when his work in Florence drew
to a close, for she never knew where his next work
`Well,' said Filippo one night as he returned
home and caught up little Filippino in his arms,
`the picture for the nuns of San Ambrogio is finished
at last! Truly they have saints and angels enough
this time--rows upon rows of sweet faces and white
lilies. And the sweetest face of all is thine, Saint
Lucy, kneeling in front with thy hand beneath the
chin of this young cherub.'
`Is it indeed finished so soon?' asked Lucrezia, a
wistful note creeping into her voice.
`Ay, and to-morrow I must away to Spoleto to
begin my work at the Chapel of Our Lady. But
look not so sad, dear heart; before three months are
past, by the time the grapes are gathered, I will
But it was sad work parting, though it might only
be for three months, and even her little son could not
make his mother smile, though he drew wonderful
pictures for her of birds and beasts, and told her he
meant to be a great painter like his father when
he grew up.
Next day Filippo started, and with him went his
good friend Fra Diamante.
`Fare thee well, Filippo. Take good care of him,
friend Diamante,' cried Lucrezia; and she stood
watching until their figures disappeared at the end
of the long white road, and then went inside to wait
patiently for their return.
The summer days passed slowly by. The cheeks
of the peaches grew soft and pink under the kiss of
the sun, the figs showed ripe and purple beneath the
green leaves, and the grapes hung in great transparent
clusters of purple and gold from the vines
that swung between the poplar-trees. Then came
the merry days of vintage, and the juice was pressed
out of the ripe grapes.
`Now he will come back,' said Lucrezia, `for he
said ``by the time the grapes are gathered I will
The days went slowly by, and every evening she
stood in the loggia and gazed across the hills. Then
she would point out the long white road to little
`Thy father will come along that road ere long,'
she said, and joy sang in her voice.
Then one evening as she watched as usual her
heart beat quickly. Surely that figure riding so
slowly along was Fra Diamante? But where was
Filippo, and why did his friend ride so slowly?
When he came near and entered the house she
looked into his face, and all the joy faded from her
`You need not tell me,' she cried; `I know that
Filippo is dead.'
It was but too true. The faithful friend had
brought the sad news himself. No one could tell
how Filippo had died. A few short hours of pain
and then all was over. Some talked of poison. But
who could tell?
There had just been time to send his farewell to
Lucrezia, and to pray his friend to take charge of
So, as she listened, joy died out of Lucrezia's life.
Spring might come again, and summer sunshine
make others glad, but for her it would be ever cold,
bleak winter. For never more should her heart grow
warm in the sunshine of Filippo's smile--that
sunshine which had made every one love him, in spite
of his faults, ever since he ran about the streets,
a little ragged boy, in the old city of Florence.
We must now go back to the days when Fra
Filippo Lippi painted his pictures and so brought
fame to the Carmine Convent.
There was at that time in Florence a good citizen
called Mariano Filipepi, an honest, well-to-do man,
who had several sons. These sons were all taught
carefully and well trained to do each the work he
chose. But the fourth son, Alessandro, or Sandro
as he was called, was a great trial to his father. He
would settle to no trade or calling. Restless and
uncertain, he turned from one thing to another.
At one time he would work with all his might, and
then again become as idle and fitful as the summer
breeze. He could learn well and quickly when he
chose, but then there were so few things that he
did choose to learn. Music he loved, and he knew
every song of the birds, and anything connected
with flowers was a special joy to him. No one
knew better than he how the different kinds of
roses grew, and how the lilies hung upon their
`And what, I should like to know, is going to be
the use of all this,' the good father would say
impatiently, `as long as thou takest no pains to read
and write and do thy sums? What am I to do
with such a boy, I wonder?'
Then in despair the poor man decided to send
Sandro to a neighbour's workshop, to see if perhaps
his hands would work better than his head.
The name of this neighbour was Botticelli, and
he was a goldsmith, and a very excellent master of
his art. He agreed to receive Sandro as his pupil,
so it happened that the boy was called by his
master's name, and was known ever after as Sandro
Sandro worked for some time with his master, and
quickly learned to draw designs for the goldsmith's
In those days painters and goldsmiths worked a
great deal together, and Sandro often saw designs
for pictures and listened to the talk of the artists
who came to his master's shop. Gradually, as he
looked and listened, his mind was made up. He
would become a painter. All his restless longings
and day dreams turned to this. All the music that
floated in the air as he listened to the birds' song,
the gentle dancing motion of the wind among the
trees, all the colours of the flowers, and the graceful
twinings of the rose-stems--all these he would catch
and weave into his pictures. Yes, he would learn
to painst music and motion, and then he would be
`So now thou wilt become a painter,' said his
father, with a hopeless sigh.
Truly this boy was more trouble than all the rest
put together. Here he had just settled down to
learn how to become a good goldsmith, and now he
wished to try his hand at something else. Well, it
was no use saying `no.' The boy could never be
made to do anything but what he wished. There was
the Carmelite monk Fra Filippo Lippi, of whom all,
men were talking. It was said he was the greatest
painter in Florence. The boy should have the best
teaching it was possible to give him, and perhaps
this time he would stick to his work.
So Sandro was sent as a pupil to Fra Filippo, and
he soon became a great favourite with the happy,
sunny-tempered master. The quick eye of the
painter soon saw that this was no ordinary pupil.
There was something about Sandro's drawing that
was different to anything that Filippo had ever seen
before. His figures seemed to move, and one
almost heard the wind rustling in their flowing
drapery. Instead of walking, they seemed to be
dancing lightly along with a swaying motion as if to
the rhythm of music. The very rose-leaves the boy
loved to paint, seemed to flutter down to the sound
of a fairy song. Filippo was proud of his pupil.
`The world will one day hear more of my Sandro
Botticelli,' he said; and, young though the boy was,
he often took him to different places to help him in
So it happened that, in that wonderful spring
of Filippo's life, Sandro too was at Prato, and
worked there with Fra Diamante. And in after
years when the master's little daughter was born,
she was named Alessandra, after the favourite
pupil, to whom was also left the training of little
Now, indeed, Sandros good old father had no
further cause to complain. The boy had found the
work he was most fitted for, and his name soon
became famous in Florence.
It was the reign of gaiety and pleasure in the city
of Florence at that time. Lorenzo the Magnificent,
the son of Cosimo de Medici, was ruler now, and
his court was the centre of all that was most splendid
and beautiful. Rich dresses, dainty food, music,
gay revels, everything that could give pleasure,
whether good or bad, was there.
Lorenzo, like his father, was always glad to
discover a new painter, and Botticelli soon became a
great favourite at court.
But pictures of saints and angels were somewhat
out of fashion at that time, for people did not care
to be reminded of anything but earthly pleasures.
So Botticelli chose his subjects to please the court,
and for a while ceased to paint his sad-eyed Madonnas.
What mattered to him what his subject was?
Let him but paint his dancing figures, tripping
along in their light flowing garments, keeping time
to the music of his thoughts, and the subject might
be one of the old Greek tales or any other story
that served his purpose.
All the gay court dresses, the rich quaint robes of
the fair ladies, helped to train the young painter's
fancy for flowing draperies and wonderful veils of
filmy transparent gauze.
There was one fair lady especially whom Sandro
loved to paint--the beautiful Simonetta, as she is
First he painted her as Venus, who was born of
the sea foam. In his picture she floats to the shore
standing in a shell, her golden hair wrapped round
her. The winds behind blow her onward and
scatter pink and red roses through the air. On the
shore stands Spring, who holds out a mantle, flowers
nestling in its folds, ready to enwrap the goddess
when the winds shall have wafted her to land.
Then again we see her in his wonderful picture
of `Spring,' and in another called `Mars and Venus.'
She was too great a lady to stoop to the humble
painter, and he perhaps only looked up to her as a
star shining in heaven, far out of the reach of his
love. But he never ceased to worship her from afar.
He never married or cared for any other fair face, just
as the great poet Dante, whom Botticelli admired
so much, dreamed only of his one love, Beatrice.
But Sandro did not go sadly through life sighing
for what could never be his. He was kindly and
good-natured, full of jokes, and ready to make merry
with his pupils in the workshop.
It once happened that one of these pupils, Biagio
by name, had made a copy of one of Sandro's
pictures, a beautiful Madonna surrounded by eight
angels. This he was very anxious to sell, and the
master kindly promised to help him, and in the end
arranged the matter with a citizen of Florence, who
offered to buy it for six gold pieces.
`Well, Biagio,' said Sandro, when his pupil came
into the studio next morning, `I have sold thy
picture. Let us now hang it up in a good light
that the man who wishes to buy it may see it at its
best. Then will he pay thee the money.'
Biagio was overjoyed.
`Oh, master,' he cried, `how well thou hast done.'
Then with hands which trembled with excitement
the pupil arranged the picture in the best light, and
went to fetch the purchaser.
Now meanwhile Botticelli and his other pupils
had made eight caps of scarlet pasteboard such as
the citizens of Florence then wore, and these they
fastened with wax on to the heads of the eight
angels in the picture.
Presently Biagio came back panting with joyful
excitement, and brought with him the citizen, who
knew already of the joke. The poor boy looked at
his picture and then rubbed his eyes. What had
happened? Where were his angels? The picture
must be bewitched, for instead of his angels he saw
only eight citizens in scarlet caps.
He looked wildly around, and then at the face
of the man who had promised to buy the picture.
Of course he would refuse to take such a thing.
But, to his surprise, the citizen looked well pleased,
and even praised the work.
`It is well worth the money,' he said; `and if thou
wilt return with me to my house, I will pay thee the
six gold pieces.'
Biagio scarcely knew what to do. He was so
puzzled and bewildered he felt as if this must be a
As soon as he could, he rushed back to the studio
to look again at that picture, and then he found
that the red-capped citizens had disappeared, and his
eight angels were there instead. This of course was
not surprising, as Sandro and his pupils had quickly
removed the wax and taken off the scarlet caps.
`Master, master,' cried the astonished pupil, `tell
me if I am dreaming, or if I have lost my wits?
When I came in just now, these angels were
Florentine citizens with red caps on their heads, and
now they are angels once more. What may this
`I think, Biagio, that this money must have
turned thy brain round,' said Botticelli gravely. `If
the angels had looked as thou sayest, dost thou
think the citizen would have bought the picture?'
`That is true,' said Biagio, shaking his head
solemnly; `and yet I swear I never saw anything
And the poor boy, for many a long day, was
afraid to trust his own eyes, since they had so
basely deceived him.
But the next thing that happened at the studio
did not seem like a joke to the master, for a weaver
of cloth came to live close by, and his looms made
such a noise and such a shaking that Sandro was
deafened, and the house shook so greatly that it was
impossible to paint.
But though Botticelli went to the weaver and
explained all this most courteously, the man
answered roughly, `Can I not do what I like with
my own house?' So Sandro was angry, and went
away and immediately ordered a great square of
stone to be brought, so big that it filled a waggon.
This he had placed on the top of his wall nearest to
the weaver's house, in such a way that the least
shake would bring it crashing down into the enemy's
When the weaver saw this he was terrified, and
came round at once to the studio.
`Take down that great stone at once,' he shouted.
`Do you not see that it would crush me and my
workshop if it fell?'
`Not at all,' said Botticelli. `Why should I take
it down? Can I not do as I like with my own
And this taught the weaver a lesson, so that he
made less noise and shaking, and Sandro had the
best of the joke after all.
There were no idle days of dreaming now for
Sandro. As soon as one picture was finished
another was wanted. Money flowed in, and his
purse was always full of gold, though he emptied it
almost as fast as it was filled. His work for the
Pope at Rome alone was so well paid that the
money should have lasted him for many a long day,
but in his usual careless way he spent it all before
he returned to Florence.
Perhaps it was the gay life at Lorenzo's splendid
court that had taught him to spend money so carelessly,
and to have no thought but to eat, drink, and
be merry. But very soon a change began to steal
over his life.
There was one man in Florence who looked with
sad condemning eyes on all the pleasure-loving
crowd that thronged the court of Lorenzo the
Magnificent. In the peaceful convent of San
Marco, whose walls the angel-painter had covered
with pictures `like windows into heaven,' the
stern monk Savonarola was grieving over the sin
and vanity that went on around him. He loved
Florence with all his heart, and he could not bear
the thought that she was forgetting, in the whirl of
pleasure, all that was good and pure and worth the
Then, like a battle-cry, his voice sounded through
the city, and roused the people from their foolish
dreams of ease and pleasure. Every one flocked to
the great cathedral to hear Savonarola preach, and
Sandro Botticelli left for a while his studio and his
painting and became a follower of the great preacher.
Never again did he paint those pictures of earthly
subjects which had so delighted Lorenzo. When he
once more returned to his work, it was to paint his
sad-eyed Madonnas; and the music which still floated
through his visions was now like the song of angels.
The boys of Florence especially had grown wild
and rough during the reign of pleasure, and they
were the terror of the city during carnival time.
They would carry long poles, or `stili,' and bar the
streets across, demanding money before they would
let the people pass. This money they spent on
drinking and feasting, and at night they set up
great trees in the squares or wider streets and
lighted huge bonfires around them. Then would
begin a terrible fight with stones, and many of the
boys were hurt, and some even killed.
No one had been able to put a stop to this until
Savonarola made up his mind that it should cease.
Then, as if by magic, all was changed.
Instead of the rough game of `stili,' there were
altars put up at the corners of the streets, and the
boys begged money of the passers-by, not for their
feasts, but for the poor.
`You shall not miss your bonfire,' said Savonarola;
`but instead of a tree you shall burn up vain and
useless things, and so purify the city.'
So the children went round and collected all the
`vanities,' as they were called--wigs and masks and
carnival dresses, foolish songs, bad books, and evil
pictures; all were heaped high and then lighted to
make one great bonfire.
Some people think that perhaps Sandro threw
into the Bonfire of Vanities some of his own beautiful
pictures, but that we cannot tell.
Then came the sad time when the people, who at
one time would have made Savonarola their king,
turned against him, in the same fickle way that
crowds will ever turn. And then the great preacher,
who had spent his life trying to help and teach them,
and to do them good, was burned in the great
square of that city which he had loved so dearly.
After this it was long before Botticelli cared to
paint again. He was old and weary now, poor and
sad, sick of that world which had treated with such
cruelty the master whom he loved.
One last picture he painted to show the triumph
of good over evil. Not with the sword or the might
of great power is the triumph won, says Sandro to
us by this picture, but by the little hand of the
Christ Child, conquering by love and drawing all
men to Him. This Adoration of the Magi is in
our own National Gallery in London, and is the
only painting which Botticelli ever signed.
`I, Alessandro, painted this picture during the
troubles of Italy ... when the devil was let loose
for the space of three and a half years. Afterwards
shall he be chained, and we shall see him trodden
down as in this picture.'
It is evident that Botticelli meant by this those
sad years of struggle against evil which ended in
the martyrdom of the great preacher, and he has
placed Savonarola among the crowd of worshippers
drawn to His feet by the Infant Christ.
It is sad to think of those last days when Sandro
was too old and too weary to paint. He who had
loved to make his figures move with dancing feet, was
now obliged to walk with crutches. The roses and
lilies of spring were faded now, and instead of the
music of his youth he heard only the sound of harsh,
ungrateful voices, in the flowerless days of poverty
and old age.
There is always something sad too about his
pictures, but through the sadness, if we listen, we
may hear the angel-song, and understand it better if
we have in our minds the prayer which Botticelli
left for us.
`Oh, King of Wings and Lord of Lords, who
alone rulest always in eternity, and who correctest
all our wanderings, giver of melody to the choir
of angels, listen Thou a little to our bitter grief, and
come and rule us, oh Thou highest King, with Thy
love which is so sweet.'
Ghirlandaio! what a difficult name that sounds to
our English ears. But it has a very simple meaning,
and when you understand it the difficulty will
It all happened in this way. Domenico's father
was a goldsmith, one of the cleverest goldsmiths
in Florence, and he was specially famous for making
garlands or wreaths of gold and silver. It was the
fashion then for the young maidens of Florence to
wear these garlands, or `ghirlande' as they were
called, on their heads, and because this goldsmith
made them better than any one else they gave him
the name of Ghirlandaio, which means `maker of
garlands,' and that became the family name.
When the time came for the boy Domenico to
learn a trade, he was sent, of course, to his father's
workshop. He learned so quickly, and worked with
such strong, clever fingers, that his father was
`The boy will make the finest goldsmith of his
day,' he said proudly, as he watched him twisting
the delicate golden wire and working out his designs
in beaten silver.
So he was set to make the garlands, and for a while
be was contented and happy. It was such exquisite
work to twine into shape the graceful golden leaves,
with here and there a silver lily or a jewelled rose,
and to dream of the fair head on which the garland
But the making of garlands did not satisfy
Domenico for long, and like Botticelli he soon
began to dream of becoming a painter.
You must remember that in those days goldsmiths
and painters had much in common, and often worked
together. The goldsmith made his picture with
gold and silver and jewels, while the painter drew
his with colours, but they were both artists.
So as the young Ghirlandaio watched these men
draw their great designs and listened to their talk,
he began to feel that the goldsmith's work was
cramped and narrow, and he longed for a larger,
grander work. Day by day the garlands were more
and more neglected, and every spare moment was
spent drawing the faces of those who came to the
shop, or even those of the passers-by.
But although, ere long, Ghirlandaio left his
father's shop and learned to make pictures with
colours, instead of with gold, silver, and jewels, still
the training he had received in his goldsmith's work
showed to the end in all his pictures. He painted
the smallest things with extreme care, and was
never tired of spreading them over with delicate
ornaments and decorations. It is a great deal the
outward show with Ghirlandaio, and not so much
the inward soul, that we find in his pictures, though
he had a wonderful gift of painting portraits.
These portraits painted by the young Ghirlandaio
seemed very wonderful to the admiring Florentines.
From all his pictures looked out faces which they
knew and recognised immediately. There, in a
group of saints, or in a crowd of figures around the
Infant Christ, they saw the well-known faces of
Florentine nobles, the great ladies from the palaces,
ay, and even the men of the market-place, and the
poor peasant women who sold eggs and vegetables
in the streets. Once he painted an old bishop with
a pair of spectacles resting on his nose. It was the
first time that spectacles had ever been put into a
Then off he must go to Rome, like every one else,
to add his share to the famous frescoes of the
Vatican. But it was in Florence that most of his
work was done.
In the church of Santa Maria Novella there was
a great chapel which belonged to the Ricci family.
It had once been covered by beautiful frescoes, but
now it was spoilt by damp and the rain that came
through the leaking roof. The noble family, to
whom the chapel belonged, were poor and could not
afford to have the chapel repainted, but neither
would they allow any one else to decorate it, lest
it should pass out of their hands.
Now another noble family, called the Tournabuoni,
when they heard of the fame of the new
painter, greatly desired to have a chapel painted
by him in order to do honour to their name and
Accordingly they went to the Ricci family and
offered to have the whole chapel painted and to pay
the artist themselves. Moreover, they said that
the arms or crest of the Ricci family should be
painted in the most honourable part of the chapel,
that all might see that the chapel still belonged to
To this the Ricci family gladly agreed, and
Ghirlandaio was set to work to cover the walls with
`I will give thee twelve hundred gold pieces when
it is done,' said Giovanni Tournabuoni, `and if I
like it well, then shalt thou have two hundred more.'
Here was good pay indeed. Ghirlandaio set to
work with all speed, and day by day the frescoes
grew. For four years he worked hard, from
morning until night, until at last the walls were
One of the subjects which he chose for these
frescoes was the story of the Life of the Virgin, so
often painted by Florentine artists. This story I
will tell you now, that your eyes may take greater
pleasure in the pictures when you see them.
The Bible story of the Virgin Mary begins when
the Angel Gabriel came to tell her of the birth of
the Baby Jesus, but there are many stories or
legends about her before that time, and this is one
which the Italians specially loved to paint.
Among the blue hills of Galilee, in the little town
of Nazareth, there lived a man and his wife whose
names were Joachim and Anna. Though they were
rich and had many flocks of sheep which fed in the
rich pastures around, still there was one thing which
God had not given them and which they longed
for more than all beside. They had no child. They
had hoped that God would send one, but now they
were both growing old, and hope began to fade.
Joachim was a very good man, and gave a third
of all that he had as an offering to the temple; but
one sad day when he took his gift, the high priest
at the altar refused to take it.
`God has shown that He will have nought of
thee,' said the priest, `since thou hast no child to
come after thee.'
Filled with shame and grief Joachim would not
go home to his wife, but instead he wandered out
into the far-of fields where his shepherds were
feeding the flocks, and there he stayed forty days.
With bowed head and sad eyes when he was alone,
he knelt and prayed that God would tell him what
he had done to deserve this disgrace.
And as he prayed God sent an angel to comfort
The angel placed his hand upon the bowed head
of the poor old man, and told him to be of good
cheer and to return home at once to his wife.
`For God will even now send thee a child,' said
So with a thankful heart which never doubted
the angel's word, Joachim turned his face homewards.
Meanwhile, at home, Anna had been sorrowing
alone. That same day she had gone into the garden,
and, as she wandered among the flowers, she wept
bitterly and prayed that God would send her comfort.
Then there appeared to her also an angel, who
told her that God had heard her prayer and would
send her the child she longed for.
`Go now,' the angel added, `and meet thy
husband Joachim, who is even now returning to
thee, and thou shall find him at the entrance to the
So the husband and wife did as the angel
bade them, and met together at the Golden Gate.
And the Angel of Promise hovered above them,
and laid a hand in blessing upon both their heads.
There was no need for speech. As Joachim and
Anna looked into each other's eyes and read there
the solemn joy of the angel's message, their hearts
were filled with peace and comfort.
And before long the angel's promise was fulfilled,
and a little daughter was born to Anna and Joachim.
In their joy and thankfulness they said she should
not be as other children, but should serve in the
temple as little Samuel had done. The name they
gave the child was Mary, not knowing even then
that she was to be the mother of our Lord.
The little maid was but three years old when her
parents took her to present her in the temple. She
was such a little child that they almost feared she
might be frightened to go up the steps to the great
temple and meet the high priest alone. So they
asked if she might go in company with the other
children who were also on their way to the temple.
But when the little band arrived at the temple
steps, Mary stepped forward and began to climb
up, step by step, alone, while the other children
and her parents watched wondering from below.
Straight up to the temple gates she climbed, and
stood with little head bent low to receive the
blessing of the great high priest.
So the child was left there to be taught to serve
God and to learn how to embroider the purple and
fine linen for the priests' vestments. Never before
had such exquisite embroidery been done as that
which Mary's fingers so delicately stitched, for her
work was aided by angel hands. Sleeping or
waking, the blessed angels never left her.
When it was time that the maiden should be
married, so many suitors came to seek her that it
was difficult to know which to choose. To decide
the matter they were all told to bring their staves
or wands and leave them in the temple all night,
that God might show by a sign who was the
most worthy to be the guardian of the pure young
Now among the suitors was a poor carpenter of
Nazareth called Joseph, who was much older and
much poorer than any of the other suitors. They
thought it was foolish of him to bring his staff,
nevertheless it was placed in the temple with the
But when the morning came and the priest went
into the temple, behold, Joseph's staff had budded
into leaves and flowers, and from among the
blossoms there flew out a dove as white as snow.
So it was known that Joseph was to take charge
of the young maid, and all the rest of the suitors
seized their staves and broke them across their
knees in rage and disappointment.
Then the story goes on to the birth of our
Saviour as it is told to you in the Bible.
It was this story which Ghirlandaio painted on
the walls of the chapel, as well as the history of
John the Baptist. Then, as Giovanni directed, he
painted the arms of the Tournabuoni on various
shields all over the chapel, and only in the tabernacle
of the sacrament on the high altar he
painted a tiny coat of arms of the Ricci family.
The chapel was finished at last and every one
flocked to see it, but first of all came the Ricci, the
owners of the chapel.
They looked high and low, but nowhere could
they see the arms of their family. Instead, on all
sides, they saw the arms of the Tournabuoni. In a
great rage they hurried to the Council and
demanded that Giovanni Tournabuoni should be
punished. But when the facts were explained, and
it was shown that the Ricci arms had indeed been
placed in the most honourable part, they were
obliged to be content, though they vowed vengeance
against the Tournabuoni. Neither did Ghirlandaio
get his extra two hundred gold pieces, for although
Giovanni was delighted with the frescoes he never
paid the price he had promised.
To the end of his days Ghirlandaio loved nothing
so much as to work from morning till night.
Nothing was too small or mean for him to do.
He would even paint the hoops for women's baskets
rather than send any work away from his shop.
`Oh,' he cried, one day, `how I wish I could
paint all the walls around Florence with my stories.'
But there was no time to do all that. He was
only forty-four years old when Death came and bade
him lay down his brushes and pencil, for his work
Beneath his own frescoes they laid him to rest
in the church of Santa Maria Novella. And
although we sometimes miss the soul in his pictures
and weary of the gay outward decoration of
goldsmith's work, yet there is something there which
makes us love the grand show of fair ladies and strong
men in the carefully finished work of this Florentine
`Maker of Garlands.'
The little curly-haired Filippino, left in the charge
of good Fra Diamante, soon showed that he meant
to be a painter like his father. When, as a little
boy, he drew his pictures and showed them proudly
to his mother, he told her that he, too, would learn
some day to be a great artist. And she, half smiling,
would pat his curly head and tell him that he could
at least try his best.
Then, after that sad day when Lucrezia heard of
Filippo's death, and the happy little home was
broken up, Fra Diamante began in earnest to train
the boy who had been left under his care. He had
plenty of money, for Filippo had been well paid for
the work at Spoleto, and so it was decided that the
boy should be placed in some studio where he could
be taught all that was necessary.
There was no fear of Filippino ever wandering
about the Florentine streets cold and hungry as his
father had done. And his training was very different
too. Instead of the convent and the kind monks,
he was placed under the care of a great painter, and
worked in the master's studio with other boys as
well off as himself.
The name of Filippino's master was Sandro Botti-
celli, a Florentine artist, who had been one of
Filippo's pupils and had worked with him in Prato.
Fra Diamante knew that he was the greatest artist
now in Florence, and that he would be able to teach
the child better than any one else.
Filippino was a good, industrious boy, and had
none of the faults which had so often led his father
into so much mischief and so many strange adventures.
His boyhood passed quietly by and he learned
all that his master could teach him, and then began
to paint his own pictures.
Strangely enough, his first work was to paint the
walls of the Carmille Chapel--that same chapel where
Filippo and Diamante had learned their lessons, and
had gazed with such awe and reverence on Masaccio's
The great painter, Ugly Tom, was dead, and there
were still parts of the chapel unfinished, so Filippino
was invited to fill the empty spaces with his work.
No need for the new prior to warn this young painter
against the sin of painting earthly pictures. The
frescoes which daily grew beneath Filippino's hands
were saintly and beautiful. The tall angel in flowing
white robes who so gently leads St. Peter out of
the prison door, shines with a pure fair light that
speaks of Heaven. The sleeping soldier looks in
contrast all the more dull and heavy, while St. Peter
turns his eyes towards his gentle guide and folds his
hands in reverence, wrapped in the soft reflected
light of that fair face. And on the opposite wall,
the sad face of St. Peter looks out through the prison
bars, while a brother saint stands outside, and with
uplifted hand speaks comforting words to the poor
By slow degrees the chapel walls were finished, and
after that there was much work ready for the young
painter's hand. It is said that he was very fond of
studying old Roman ornaments and painted them
into his pictures whenever it was possible, and became
very famous for this kind of work. But it is the beauty
of his Madonnas and angels that makes us love his
pictures, and we like to think that the memory of
his gentle mother taught him how to paint those
Perhaps of all his pictures the most beautiful is one
in the church of the Badia in Florence. It tells the
story of the blessed St. Bernard, and shows the saint
in his desert home, as he sat among the rocks writing
the history of the Madonna. He had not been
able to write that day; perhaps he felt dull, and none
of his books, scattered around, were of any help.
Then, as he sat lost in thought, with his pen in his
hand, the Virgin herself stood before him, an angel on
either side, and little angel faces pressed close behind
her. Laying a gentle hand upon his book, she
seems to tell St. Bernard all those golden words
which his poor earthly pen had not been able yet to
It used to be the custom long ago in Italy to place
in the streets sacred pictures or figures, that passers-
by might be reminded of holy things and say a prayer
in passing. And still in many towns you will find in
some old dusty corner a beautiful picture, painted by
a master hand. A gleam of colour will catch your
eye, and looking up you see a picture or little shrine
of exquisite blue-and-white glazed pottery, where
the Madonna kneels and worships the Infant Christ
lying amongst the lilies at her feet. The old battered
lamp which hangs in front of these shrines is still
kept lighted by some faithful hand, and in spring-
time the children will often come and lay little
bunches of wild-flowers on the ledge below.
`It is for the Jesu Bambino,' they will say, and
their little faces grow solemn and reverent as they
kneel and say a prayer. Then off again they go to
In a little side-street of Prato, not far from the
convent where Filippino's father first saw Lucrezia's
lovely face in the sunny garden, there is one of these
wayside shrines. It is painted by Filippino, and is
one of his most beautiful pictures. The sweet face
of the Madonna looks down upon the busy street
below, and the Holy Child lifts His little hand in
blessing, amid the saints which stand on either
The glass that covers the picture is thick with
dust, and few who pass ever stop to look up. The
world is all too busy nowadays. The hurrying feet
pass by, the unseeing eyes grow more and more
careless. But Filippino's beautiful Madonna looks
on with calm, sad eyes, and the Christ Child,
surrounded by the cloud of little angel faces, still holds
in His uplifted hand a blessing for those who
Like all the great Florentine artists, Filippino, as
soon as he grew famous, was invited to Rome, and
he painted many pictures there. On his way he
stopped for a while at Spoleto, and there he
designed a beautiful marble monument for his father's
Unlike that father, Filippino was never fond of
travel or adventure, and was always glad to return
to Florence and live his quiet life there. Not even
an invitation from the King of Hungary could tempt
him to leave home.
It was in the great church of Santa Maria Novella
in Florence that Filippino painted his last frescoes.
They are very real and lifelike, as one of the great
painter's pupils once learned to his cost. Filippino
had, of course, many pupils who worked under him.
They ground his colours and watched him work,
and would sometimes be allowed to prepare the less
important parts of the picture.
Now it happened that one day when the master
had finished his work and had left the chapel, that
one of the pupils lingered behind. His sharp eye
had caught sight of a netted purse which lay in a dark
corner, dropped there by some careless visitor, or
perhaps by the master himself. The boy darted
back and caught up the treasure; but at that
moment the master turned back to fetch something
he had forgotten. The boy looked quickly
round. Where could he hide his prize? In a
moment his eye fell on a hole in the wall,
underneath a step which Filippino had been painting in
the fresco. That was the very place, and he ran
forward to thrust the purse inside. But, alas! the
hole was only a painted one, and the boy was fairly
caught, and was obliged with shame and confusion
to give up his prize.
Scarcely were these frescoes finished when
Filippino was seized with a terrible fever, and he died
almost as suddenly as his father had done.
In those days when there was a funeral of a prince
in Florence, the Florentines used to shut their shops,
and this was considered a great mark of respect,
and was paid only to those of royal blood. But on
the day that Filippino's funeral passed along the
Via dei Servi, every shop there was closed and all
Florence mourned for him.
`Some men,' they said, `are born princes, and
some raise themselves by their talents to be kings
among men. Our Filippino was a prince in Art, and
so do we do honour to his title.'
It was early morning, and the rays of the rising
sun had scarcely yet caught the roofs of the city
of Perugia, when along the winding road which led
across the plain a man and a boy walked with
steady, purposelike steps towards the town which
crowned the hill in front.
The man was poorly dressed in the common
rough clothes of an Umbrian peasant. Hard work
and poverty had bent his shoulders and drawn stern
lines upon his face, but there was a dignity about
him which marked him as something above the
common working man.
The little boy who trotted barefoot along by the
side of his father had a sweet, serious little face, but
he looked tired and hungry, and scarcely fit for such
a long rough walk. They had started from their
home at Castello delle Pieve very early that morning,
and the piece of black bread which had served
them for breakfast had been but small. Away in
front stretched that long, white, never-ending road;
and the little dusty feet that pattered so bravely
along had to take hurried runs now and again to
keep up with the long strides of the man, while the
wistful eyes, which were fixed on that distant town,
seemed to wonder if they would really ever reach
their journey's end.
`Art tired already, Pietro?' asked the father at
length, hearing a panting little sigh at his side.
`Why, we are not yet half-way there! Thou must
step bravely out and be a man, for to-day thou shalt
begin to work for thy living, and no longer live the
life of an idle child.'
The boy squared his shoulders, and his eyes shone.
`It is not I who am tired, my father,' he said.
`It is only that my legs cannot take such good long
steps as thine; and walk as we will the road ever
seems to unwind itself further and further in front,
like the magic white thread which has no end.'
The father laughed, and patted the child's head
`The end will come ere long,' he said. `See
where the mist lies at the foot of the hill; there we
will begin to climb among the olive-trees and leave
the dusty road. I know a quicker way by which
we may reach the city. We will climb over the
great stones that mark the track of the stream, and
before the sun grows too hot we will have reached
the city gates.'
It was a great relief to the little hot, tired feet to
feel the cool grass beneath them, and to leave the
dusty road. The boy almost forgot his tiredness as
he scrambled from stone to stone, and filled his
hands with the violets which grew thickly on the
banks, scenting the morning air with their sweetness.
And when at last they came out once more
upon the great white road before the city gates,
there was so much to gaze upon and wonder at, that
there was no room for thoughts of weariness or hunger.
There stood the herds of great white oxen,
patiently waiting to pass in. Pietro wondered if
their huge wide horns would not reach from side to
side of the narrow street within the gates. There
the shepherd-boys played sweet airs upon their
pipes as they walked before their flocks, and led the
silly frightened sheep out of the way of passing
carts. Women with bright-coloured handkerchiefs
tied over their heads crowded round, carrying
baskets of fruit and vegetables from the country
round. Carts full of scarlet and yellow pumpkins
were driven noisily along. Whips cracked, people
shouted and talked as much with their hands as
with their lips, and all were eager to pass through
the great Etruscan gateway, which stood grim and
tall against the blue of the summer sky. Much
good service had that gateway seen, and it was as
strong as when it had been first built hundreds of
years before, and was still able to shut out an army
of enemies, if Perugia had need to defend herself.
Pietro and his father quickly threaded their way
through the crowd, and passed through the gateway
into the steep narrow street beyond. It was cool
and quiet here. The sun was shut out by the tall
houses, and the shadows lay so deep that one might
have thought it was the hour of twilight, but for the
peep of bright blue sky which showed between the
overhanging eaves above. Presently they reached
the great square market-place, where all again was
sunshine and bustle, with people shouting and selling
their wares, which they spread out on the ground
up to the very steps of the cathedral and all along
in front of the Palazzo Publico. Here the man
stopped, and asked one of the passers-by if he could
direct him to the shop of Niccolo the painter.
`Yonder he dwells,' answered the citizen, and
pointed to a humble shop at the corner of the
market-place. `Hast thou brought the child to be
Pietro held his head up proudly, and answered
quickly for himself.
`I am no longer a child,' he said; `and I have
come to work and not to sit idle.'
The man laughed and went his way, while father
and son hurried on towards the little shop and
entered the door.
The old painter was busy, and they had to wait
a while until he could leave his work and come to
see what they might want.
`This is the boy of whom I spoke,' said the
father as he pushed Pietro forward by his shoulder.
`He is not well grown, but he is strong, and has
learnt to endure hardness. I promise thee that he
will serve thee well if thou wilt take him as thy
The painter smiled down at the little eager face
which was waiting so anxiously for his answer.
`What canst thou do?' he asked the boy.
`Everything,' answered Pietro promptly. `I can
sweep out thy shop and cook thy dinner. I will
learn to grind thy colours and wash thy brushes,
and do a man's work.'
`In faith,' laughed the painter, `if thou canst do
everything, being yet so young, thou wilt soon be
the greatest man in Perugia, and bring great fame
to this fair city. Then will we call thee no longer
Pietro Vanucci, but thou shalt take the city's name,
and we will call thee Perugino.'
The master spoke in jest, but as time went on
and he watched the boy at work, he marvelled at
the quickness with which the child learned to
perform his new duties, and began to think the jest
might one day turn to earnest.
From early morning until sundown Pietro was
never idle, and when the rough work was done he
would stand and watch the master as he painted,
and listen breathless to the tales which Niccolo
loved to tell.
`There is nothing so great in all the world as the
art of painting,' the master would say. `It is the
ladder that leads up to heaven, the window which
lets light into the soul. A painter need never be
lonely or poor. He can create the faces he loves,
while all the riches of light and colour and beauty
are always his. If thou hast it in thee to be a
painter, my little Perugino, I can wish thee no
Then when the day's work was done and the
short spell of twilight drew near, the boy would
leave the shop and run swiftly down the narrow
street until he came to the grim old city gates.
Once outside, under the wide blue sky in the free
open air of the country, he drew a long, long breath
of pleasure, and quickly found a hidden corner in
the cleft of the hoary trunk of an olive-tree, where
no passer-by could see him. There he sat, his chin
resting on his hands, gazing and gazing out over
the plain below, drinking in the beauty with his
How he loved that great open space of sweet
fresh air, in the calm pure light of the evening hour.
That white light, which seemed to belong more to
heaven than to earth, shone on everything around.
Away in the distance the purple hills faded into the
sunset sky. At his feet the plain stretched away,
away until it met the mountains, here and there
lifting itself in some little hill crowned by a lonely
town whose roofs just caught the rays of the setting
sun. The evening mist lay like a gossamer veil
upon the low-lying lands, and between the little
towns the long straight road could be seen, winding
like a white ribbon through the grey and silver, and
marked here and there by a dark cypress-tree or a
tall poplar. And always there would be a glint
of blue, where a stream or river caught the
reflection of the sky and held it lovingly there, like
a mirror among the rocks.
But Pietro did not have much time for idle
dreaming. His was not an easy life, for Niccolo
made but little money with his painting, and the
boy had to do all the work of the house besides
attending to the shop. But all the time he was
sweeping and dusting he looked forward to the
happy days to come when he might paint pictures
and become a famous artist.
Whenever a visitor came to the shop, Pietro
would listen eagerly to his talk and try to learn
something of the great world of Art. Sometimes he
would even venture to ask questions, if the stranger
happened to be one who had travelled from afar.
`Where are the most beautiful pictures to be
found?' he asked one day when a Florentine painter
had come to the little shop and had been describing
the glories he had seen in other cities. `And where
is it that the greatest painters dwell?'
`That is an easy question to answer, my boy,' said
the painter. `All that is fairest is to be found in
Florence, the most beautiful city in all the world,
the City of Flowers. There one may find the best of
everything, but above all, the most beautiful pictures
and the greatest of painters. For no one there can
bear to do only the second best, and a man must
attain to the very highest before the Florentines
will call him great. The walls of the churches and
monasteries are covered with pictures of saints and
angels, and their beauty no words can describe.'
`I too will go to Florence, said Pietro to himself,
and every day he longed more and more to see that
It was no use to wait until he should have saved
enough money to take him there. He scarcely
earned enough to live on from day to day. So at
last, poor as he was, he started off early one morning
and said good-bye to his old master and the hard
work of the little shop in Perugia. On he went
down the same long white road which had seemed
so endless to him that day when, as a little child, he
first came to Perugia. Even now, when he was
a strong young man, the way seemed long and
weary across that great plain, and he was often foot-
sore and discouraged. Day after day he travelled
on, past the great lake which lay like a sapphire in
the bosom of the plain, past many towns and little
villages, until at last he came in sight of the City
It was a wonderful moment to Perugino, and he
held his breath as he looked. He had passed the brow
of the hill, and stood beside a little stream bordered
by a row of tall, straight poplars which showed
silvery white against the blue sky. Beyond, nestling
at the foot of the encircling hills, lay the city of his
dreams. Towers and palaces, a crowding together
of pale red sunbaked roofs, with the great dome of
the cathedral in the midst, and the silver thread
of the Arno winding its way between--all this he
saw, but he saw more than this. For it seemed to
him that the Spirit of Beauty hovered above the fair
city, and he almost heard the rustle of her wings
and caught a glimpse of her rainbow-tinted robe in
the light of the evening sky.
Poor Pietro! Here was the world he longed to
conquer, but he was only a poor country boy, and
how was he to begin to climb that golden ladder of
Art which led men to fame and glory?
Well, he could work, and that was always a
beginning. The struggle was hard, and for many a
month he often went hungry and had not even
a bed to lie on at night, but curled himself up on a
hard wooden chest. Then good fortune began to
smile upon him.
The Florentine artists to whose studios he went
began to notice the hardworking boy, and when
they looked at his work, with all its faults and want
of finish, they saw in it that divine something called
genius which no one can mistake.
Then the doors of another world seemed to open
to Pietro. All day long he could now work at his
beloved painting and learn fresh wonders as he
watched the great men use the brush and pencil.
In the studio of the painter Verocchio he met the
men of whose fame he had so often heard, and whose
work he looked upon with awe and reverence.
There was the good-tempered monk of the Carmine,
Fra Filipo Lippi, the young Botticelli, and a youth
just his own age whom they called Leonardo da
Vinci, of whom it was whispered already that he
would some day be the greatest master of the
These were golden days for Perugino, as he was
called, for the name of the city where he had come
from was always now given to him. The pictures
he had longed to paint grew beneath his hand,
and upon his canvas began to dawn the solemn
dignity and open-air spaciousness of those evening
visions he had seen when he gazed across the
Umbrian Plain. There was no noise of battle, no
human passion in his pictures. His saints stood
quiet and solemn, single figures with just a thread
of interest binding them together, and always beyond
was the great wide open world, with the white light
shining in the sky, the blue thread of the river, and
the single trees pointing upwards--dark, solemn
cypress, or feathery larch or poplar.
There was much for the young painter still to
learn, and perhaps he learned most from the silent
teaching of that little dark chapel of the Carmine,
where Masaccio taught more wonderful lessons by
his frescoes than any living artist could teach.
Then came the crowning honour when Perugino
received an invitation from the Pope to go to Rome
and paint the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Hence
forth it was a different kind of life for the young
painter. No need to wonder where he would get
his next meal, no hard rough wooden chest on which
to rest his weary limbs when the day's work was
done. Now he was royally entertained and softly
lodged, and men counted it an honour to be in his
But though he loved Florence and was proud to
do his painting in Rome, his heart ever drew him
back to the city on the hill whose name he bore.
Again he travelled along the winding road, and
his heart beat fast as he drew nearer and saw the
familiar towers and roofs of Perugia. How well he
remembered that long-ago day when the cool touch
of the grass was so grateful to his little tired dusty
feet! He stooped again to fill his hands with the
sweet violets, and thought them sweeter than all the
fame and fair show of the gay cities.
And as he passed through the ancient gateway
and threaded his way up the narrow street towards
the little shop, he seemed to see once more the
kindly smile of his old master and to hear him say,
`Thou wilt soon be the greatest man in Perugia,
and we will call thee no longer Pietro Vanucci, but
So it had come to pass. Here he was. No longer
a little ragged, hungry boy, but a man whom all
delighted to honour. Truly this was a world of
A bigger studio was needed than the little old shop,
for now he had more pictures to paint than he well
knew how to finish. Then, too, he had many pupils,
for all were eager to enter the studio of the great
master. There it was that one morning a new
pupil was brought to him, a boy of twelve, whose
guardians begged that Perugino would teach and
Perugino looked with interest at the child. Seldom
had he seen such a beautiful oval face, framed by
such soft brown curls--a face so pure and lovable
that even at first sight it drew out love from the
hearts of those who looked at him.
`His father was also a painter,' said the guardian,
`and Raphael, here, has caught the trick of using his
pencil and brush, so we would have him learn of the
greatest master in the land.'
After some talk, the boy was left in the studio at
Perugia, and day by day Perugino grew to love him
more. It was not only that little Raphael was
clever and skilful, though that alone often made
the master marvel.
`He is my pupil now, but some day he will be
my master, and I shall learn of him,' Perugino
would often say as he watched the boy at work.
But more than all, the pure sweet nature and the
polished gentleness of his manners charmed the
heart of the master, and he loved to have the boy
always near him, and to teach him was his greatest
Those quiet days in the Perugia studio never
lasted very long. From all quarters came calls to
Perugino, and, much as he loved work, he could not
finish all that was wanted.
It happened once when he was in Florence that a
certain prior begged him to come and fresco the
walls of his convent. This prior was very famous
for making a most beautiful and expensive blue
colour which he was anxious should be used in the
painting of the convent walls. He was a mean,
suspicious man, and would not trust Perugino with
the precious blue colour, but always held it in his
own hands and grudgingly doled it out in small
quantities, torn between the desire to have the
colour on his walls and his dislike to parting with
anything so precious.
As Perugino noted this, he grew angry and
determined to punish the prior's meanness. The next
time therefore that there was a blue sky to be
painted, he put at his side a large bowl of fresh
water, and then called on the prior to put out a
small quantity of the blue colour in a little vase.
Each time he dipped his brush into the vase,
Perugino washed it out with a swirl in the bowl at
his side, so that most of the colour was left in the
water, and very little was put on to the picture.
`I pray thee fill the vase again with blue,' he said
carelessly when the colour was all gone. The prior
groaned aloud, and turned grudgingly to his little
`Oh what a quantity of blue is swallowed up by
this plaster!' he said, as he gazed at the white wall,
which scarcely showed a trace of the precious
`Yes,' said Perugino cheerfully, `thou canst see
thyself how it goes.'
Then afterwards, when the prior had sadly gone
off with his little empty bag, Perugino carefully
poured the water from the bowl and gathered
together the grains of colour which had sunk to the
`Here is something that belongs to thee,' he said
sternly to the astonished prior. `I would have thee
learn to trust honest men and not treat them as
thieves. For with all thy suspicious care, it was
easy to rob thee if I had had a mind.'
During all these years in which Perugino had
worked so diligently, the art of painting had been
growing rapidly. Many of the new artists shook
off the old rules and ideas, and began to paint in
quite a new way. There was one man especially,
called Michelangelo, whose story you will hear
later on, who arose like a giant, and with his new
way and greater knowledge swept everything before
Perugino was jealous of all these new ideas, and
clung more closely than ever to his old ideals, his
quiet, dignified saints, and spacious landscapes. He
talked openly of his dislike of the new style, and
once he had a serious quarrel with the great Michelangelo.
There was a gathering of painters in Perugino's
studio that day. Filippino Lippi, Botticelli,
Ghirlandaio, and Leonardo were there, and in the
background the pupil Raphael was listening to the
`What dost thou think of this new style of
painting?' asked Botticelli. `To me it seems but
strange and unpleasing. Music and motion are
delightful, but this violent twisting of limbs to show
the muscles offends my taste.'
`Yet it is most marvellously skilful,' said the
young Leonardo thoughtfully.
`But totally unfit for the proper picturing of
saints and the blessed Madonna,' said Filippino,
shaking his curly head.
`I never trouble myself about it,' said Ghirlandaio.
`Life is too short to attend to other men's work. It
takes all my care and attention to look after mine
own. But see, here comes the great Michelangelo
himself to listen to our criticism.'
The curious, rugged face of the great artist
looked good-naturedly on the company, but his
strong knotted hands waved aside their greetings.
`So you were busy as usual finding fault with my
work,' he said. `Come, friend Perugino, tell me
what thou hast found to grumble at.'
`I like not thy methods, and that I tell thee
frankly,' answered Perugino, an angry light shining
in his eyes. `It is such work as thine that drags
the art of painting down from the heights of
heavenly things to the low taste of earth. It robs
it of all dignity and restfulness, and destroys the
precious traditions handed down to us since the days
The face of Michelangelo grew angry and scornful
as he listened to this.
`Thou art but a dolt and a blockhead in Art,' he
said. `Thou wilt soon see that the day of thy
saints and Madonnas is past, and wilt cease to paint
them over and over again in the same manner, as a
child doth his lesson in a copy book.'
Then he turned and went out of the studio before
any one had time to answer him.
Perugino was furiously angry and would not
listen to reason, but must needs go before the great
Council and demand that they should punish
Michelangelo for his hard words. This of course
the Council refused to do, and Perugino left
Florence for Perugia, angry and sore at heart.
It seemed hard, after all his struggles and great
successes, that as he grew old people should begin
to tire of his work, which they had once thought
But if the outside world was sometimes
disappointing, he had always his home to turn to, and
his beautiful wife Chiare. He had married her in
his beloved Perugia, and she meant all the joy of
life to him. He was so proud of her beauty that he
would buy her the richest dresses and most costly
jewels, and with his own hands would deck her with
them. Her brown eyes were like the depths of
some quiet pool, her fair face and the wonderful
soul that shone there were to him the most perfect
picture in the world.
`I will paint thee once, that the world may be the
richer,' said Perugino, `but only once, for thy
beauty is too rare for common use. And I will
paint thee not as an earthly beauty, but thou shalt
be the angel in the story of Tobias which thou
So he painted her as he said. And in our own
National Gallery we still have the picture, and we
may see her there as the beautiful angel who leads
the little boy Tobias by the hand.
Up to the very last years of his life, Perugino
painted as diligently as he had ever done, but the
peaceful days of Perugia had long since given place
to war and tumult, both within and without the
city. Then too a terrible plague swept over the
countryside, and people died by thousands.
To the hospital of Fartignano, close to Perugia,
they carried Perugino when the deadly plague seized
him, and there he died. There was no time to think
of grand funerals; the people were buried as quickly
as possible, in whatever place lay closest at hand.
So it came to pass that Perugino was laid to rest
in an open field under an oak-tree close by. Later
on his sons wished to have him buried in holy
ground, and some say that this was done, but
nothing is known for certain. Perhaps if he could
have chosen, he would have been glad to think that
his body should rest under the shelter of the trees
he loved to paint, in that waste openness of space
which had always been his vision of beauty, since,
as a little boy, he gazed across the Umbrian Plain,
and the wonder of it sank into his soul.
LEONARDO DA VINCI
On the sunny slopes of Monte Albano, between
Florence and Pisa, the little town of Vinci lay high
among the rocks that crowned the steep hillside. It
was but a little town. Only a few houses crowded
together round an old castle in the midst, and it
looked from a distance like a swallow's nest clinging
to the bare steep rocks.
Here in the year 1452 Leonardo, son of Ser Piero
da Vinci, was born. It was in the age when people
told fortunes by the stars, and when a baby was
born they would eagerly look up and decide whether
it was a lucky or unlucky star which shone upon
the child. Surely if it had been possible in this way
to tell what fortune awaited the little Leonardo, a
strange new star must have shone that night,
brighter than the others and unlike the rest in the
dazzling light of its strength and beauty.
Leonardo was always a strange child. Even his
beauty was not like that of other children. He had
the most wonderful waving hair, falling in regular
ripples, like the waters of a fountain, the colour of
bright gold, and soft as spun silk. His eyes were
blue and clear, with a mysterious light in them, not
the warm light of a sunny sky, but rather the blue
that glints in the iceberg. They were merry eyes
too, when he laughed, but underneath was always
that strange cold look. There was a charm about
his smile which no one could resist, and he was a
favourite with all. Yet people shook their heads
sometimes as they looked at him, and they talked in
whispers of the old witch who had lent her goat to
nourish the little Leonardo when he was a baby.
The woman was a dealer in black magic, and who
knew but that the child might be a changeling?
It was the old grandmother, Mona Lena, who
brought Leonardo up and spoilt him not a little.
His father, Ser Piero, was a lawyer, and spent most
of his time in Florence, but when he returned to the
old castle of Vinci, he began to give Leonardo
lessons and tried to find out what the boy was fit for.
But Leonardo hated those lessons and would not
learn, so when he was seven years old he was sent to
This did not answer any better. The rough play
of the boys was not to his liking. When he saw
them drag the wings off butterflies, or torture any
animal that fell into their hands, his face grew white
with pain, and he would take no share in their
games. The Latin grammar, too, was a terrible task,
while the many things he longed to know no one
So it happened that many a time, instead of going
to school, he would slip away and escape up into the
hills, as happy as a little wild goat. Here was all
the sweet fresh air of heaven, instead of the stuffy
schoolroom. Here were no cruel, clumsy boys, but
all the wild creatures that he loved. Here he could
learn the real things his heart was hungry to know,
not merely words which meant nothing and led to
For hours he would lie perfectly still with his
heels in the air and his chin resting in his hands, as
he watched a spider weaving its web, breathless with
interest to see how the delicate threads were turned
in and out. The gaily painted butterflies, the fat
buzzing bees, the little sharp-tongued green lizards,
he loved to watch them all, but above everything he
loved the birds. Oh, if only he too had wings to
dart like the swallows, and swoop and sail and dart
again! What was the secret power in their wings?
Surely by watching he might learn it. Sometimes
it seemed as if his heart would burst with the longing
to learn that secret. It was always the hidden
reason of things that he desired to know. Much as
he loved the flowers he must pull their petals of, one
by one, to see how each was joined, to wonder at the
dusty pollen, and touch the honey-covered stamens.
Then when the sun began to sink he would turn
sadly homewards, very hungry, with torn clothes and
tired feet, but with a store of sunshine in his heart.
His grandmother shook her head when Leonardo
appeared after one of his days of wandering.
`I know thou shouldst be whipped for playing
truant,' she said; `and I should also punish thee for
tearing thy clothes.'
`Ah! but thou wilt not whip me,' answered
Leonardo, smiling at her with his curious quiet smile,
for he had full confidence in her love.
`Well, I love to see thee happy, and I will not
punish thee this time,' said his grandmother; `but
if these tales reach thy father's ears, he will not be
so tender as I am towards thee.'
And, sure enough, the very next time that a
complaint was made from the school, his father happened
to be at home, and then the storm burst.
`Next time I will flog thee,' said Ser Piero sternly,
with rising anger at the careless air of the boy.
`Meanwhile we will see what a little imprisonment
will do towards making thee a better child.'
Then he took the boy by the shoulders and led
him to a little dark cupboard under the stairs, and
there shut him up for three whole days.
There was no kicking or beating at the locked
door. Leonardo sat quietly there in the dark, thinking
his own thoughts, and wondering why there seemed
so little justice in the world. But soon even that
wonder passed away, and as usual when he was alone
he began to dream dreams of the time when he
should have learned the swallows' secrets and should
have wings like theirs.
But if there were complaints about Leonardo's
dislike of the boys and the Latin grammar, there
would be none about the lessons he chose to learn.
Indeed, some of the masters began to dread the boy's
eager questions, which were sometimes more than
they could answer. Scarcely had he begun the
study of arithmetic than he made such rapid
progress, and wanted to puzzle out so many problems,
that the masters were amazed. His mind seemed
always eagerly asking for more light, and was never
But it was out on the hillside that he spent his
happiest hours. He loved every crawling, creeping,
or flying thing, however ugly. Curious beasts which
might have frightened another child were to him
charming and interesting. There as he listened to
the carolling of the birds and bent his head to catch
the murmured song of the mountain-streams, the
love of music began to steal into his heart.
He did not rest then until he managed to get a
lute and learned how to play upon it. And when he
had mastered the notes and learned the rules of
music, he began to play airs which no one had ever
heard before, and to sing such strange sweet songs
that the golden notes flowed out as fresh and clear
as the song of a lark in the early morning of spring.
`The child is a changeling,' said some, as they
saw Leonardo tenderly lift a crushed lizard in his
hand, or watched him play with a spotted snake or
great hairy spider.
`A changeling perhaps,' said others, `but one that
hath the voice of an angel.' For every one stopped
to listen when the boy's voice was heard singing
through the streets of the little town.
He was a puzzle to every one, and yet a delight
to all, even when they understood him least.
So time went on, and when Leonardo was thirteen
his father took him away to Florence that he might
begin to be trained for some special work. But
what work? Ah! that was the rub. The boy
could do so many things well that it was difficult to
fix on one.
At that time there was living in Florence an old
man who knew a great deal about the stars, and who
made wonderful calculations about them. He was
a famous astronomer, but he cared not at all for
honour or fame, but lived a simple quiet life by
himself and would not mix with the gay world.
Few visitors ever came to see him, for it was known
that he would receive no one, and so it was a great
surprise to old Toscanelli when one night a gentle
knock sounded at his door, and a boy walked quietly
in and stood before him.
Hastily the old man looked up, and his first
thought was to ask the child how he dared enter
without leave, and then ask him to be gone, but as
he looked at the fair face he felt the charm of the
curious smile, and the light in the blue eyes, and
instead he laid his hand upon the boy's golden head
and said: `What dost thou seek, my son?'
`I would learn all that thou canst teach me,' said
Leonardo, for it was he.
The old man smiled.
`Behold the boundless self-confidence of youth!'
But as they talked together, and the boy asked his
many eager questions, a great wonder awoke in the
astronomer's mind, and his eyes shone with interest.
This child-mind held depths of understanding such
as he had never met with among his learned friends.
Day after day the old man and the boy bent eagerly
together over their problems, and when night fell
Toscanelli would take the child up with him to his
lonely tower above Florence, and teach him to know
the stars and to understand many things.
`This is all very well,' said Ser Piero, `but the boy
must do more than mere star-gazing. He must earn
a living for himself, and methinks we might make a
painter of him.'
That very day, therefore, he gathered together
some of Leonardo's drawings which lay carelessly
scattered about, and took them to the studio of
Verocchio the painter, who lived close by the Ponte
`Dost thou think thou canst make aught of the
boy?' he asked, spreading out the drawings before
The painter's quick eyes examined the work with
`Send him to me at once,' he said. `This is
indeed marvellous talent.'
So Leonardo entered the studio as a pupil, and
learned all that could be taught him with the same
quickness with which he learned anything that he
cared to know.
Every one who saw his work declared that he
would be the wonder of the age, but Verocchio
shook his head.
`He is too wonderful,' he said. `He aims at too
great perfection. He wants to know everything
and do everything, and life is too short for that.
He finishes nothing, because he is ever starting to
do something else.'
Verocchio's words were true; the boy seldom
worked long at one thing. His hands were never
idle, and often, instead of painting, he would carve
out tiny windmills and curious toys which worked
with pulleys and ropes, or made exquisite little clay
models of horses and all the other animals that he
loved. But he never forgot the longing that had
filled his heart when he was a child--the desire to
learn the secret of flying.
For days he would sit idle and think of nothing
but soaring wings, then he would rouse himself and
begin to make some strange machine which he
thought might hold the secret that he sought.
`A waste of time,' growled Verocchio. `See here,
thou wouldst be better employed if thou shouldst
set to work and help me finish this picture of the
Baptism for the good monks of Vallambrosa. Let
me see how thou canst paint in the kneeling figure
of the angel at the side.'
For a while the boy stood motionless before the
picture as if he was looking at something far away.
Then he seized the brushes with his left hand and
began to paint with quick certain sweep. He
never stopped to think, but worked as if the angel
were already there, and he were but brushing away
the veil that hid it from the light.
Then, when it was done, the master came and
looked silently on. For a moment a quick stab of
jealousy ran through his heart. Year after year
had he worked and striven to reach his ideal. Long
days of toil and weary nights had he spent, winning
each step upwards by sheer hard work. And here
was this boy without an effort able to rise far above
him. All the knowledge which the master had
groped after, had been grasped at once by the
wonderful mind of the pupil. But the envious
feeling passed quickly away, and Verocchio laid his
hand upon Leonardo's shoulder.
`I have found my master,' he said quietly, `and
I will paint no more.'
Leonardo scarcely seemed to hear; he was thinking
of something else now, and he seldom noticed
if people praised or blamed him. His thoughts had
fixed themselves upon something he had seen that
morning which had troubled him. On the way to
the studio he had passed a tiny shop in a narrow
street where a seller of birds was busy hanging his
cages up on the nails fastened to the outside wall.
The thought of those poor little prisoners beating
their wings against the cruel bars and breaking their
hearts with longing for their wild free life, had
haunted him all day, and now he could bear it no
longer. He seized his cap and hurried off, all
forgetful of his kneeling angel and the master's
He reached the little shop and called to the man
`How much wilt thou take for thy birds?' he
cried, and pointed to the little wooden cages that
hung against the wall.
`Plague on them,' answered the man, `they will
often die before I can make a sale by them. Thou
canst have them all for one silver piece.'
In a moment Leonardo had paid the money and
had turned towards the row of little cages. One
by one he opened the doors and set the prisoners
free, and those that were too frightened or timid to
fly away, he gently drew out with his hand, and sent
them gaily whirling up above his head into the blue
The man looked with blank astonishment at the
empty cages, and wondered if the handsome young
man was mad. But Leonardo paid no heed to him,
but stood gazing up until every one of the birds
`Happy things,' he said, with a sigh. `Will you
ever teach me the secret of your wings, I wonder?'
It was with great pleasure that Ser Piero heard of
his son's success at Verocchio's studio, and he began
to have hopes that the boy would make a name for
himself after all. It happened just then that he was
on a visit to his castle at Vinci, and one morning a
peasant who lived on the estate came to ask a great
favour of him.
He had bought a rough wooden shield which he
was very anxious should have a design painted on
it in Florence, and he begged Ser Piero to see that
it was done. The peasant was a faithful servant,
and very useful in supplying the castle with fish and
game, so Ser Piero was pleased to grant him his
`Leonardo shall try his hand upon it. It is time
he became useful to me,' said Ser Piero to himself.
So on his return to Florence he took the shield to
It was a rough, badly-shaped shield, so Leonardo
held it to the fire and began to straighten it. For
though his hands looked delicate and beautifully
formed, they were as strong as steel, and he could
bend bars of iron without an effort. Then he sent
the shield to a turner to be smoothed and rounded,
and when it was ready he sat down to think what
he should paint upon it, for he loved to draw strange
`I will make it as terrifying as the head of
Medusa,' he said at last, highly delighted with the
plan that had come into his head.
Then he went out and collected together all the
strangest animals he could find--lizards, hedgehogs,
newts, snakes, dragon-flies, locusts, bats, and glow-
worms. These he took into his own room, which
no one was allowed to enter, and began to paint from
them a curious monster, partly a lizard and partly
a bat, with something of each of the other animals
added to it.